The prim and proper lades of the Historic Houses of Odessa have gone uptown for this holiday season.
For the first time, the houses and buildings overseen by the Historic Odessa Foundation are lit up by thousands of feet of white lights.
Passersby have been startled at the new decor, but have been calling the office telling the foundation how much they love it. Some of them are saying they had not driven through the houses on Main Street in Odessa before and therefore were seeing the properties for the first time.
When COVID-19 restrictions squashed the foundation’s usual Christmas festivities, which included the houses being decorated for famous books and a display of trees decorated by area school children, organizers looked for another way to celebrate.
“We thought, you know, we’ve got to do something to just bring some kind of joy to the community,” said Deborah Buckson, executive director.
The effect is much like Boathouse Row on the banks of the Schuylkill River in Philadelphia, although that wasn’t intended.
Guests are invited, free of charge, to wander the foundation’s 72 acres and six major buildings nightly from 5 p.m. to 11 p.m. through Jan. 3.
A walk through the property starts with the barn-like Collins Sharp House. built in 1700. Once located on the Delaware River, it was moved to Second Street in the 1960s, but its rustic look blends in. It sits next to the Brick Hotel and Tavern at the intersection of Main and Second Sts., complete with the former Janvier Stable.
The hotel now houses Cantwell Tavern, and the stable has been converted into storage space for the commercial kitchen.
The 1780 pump house on Main Street built by William Corbitt was altered over the years to include a garage door front. One press of a button, and the facade lifted up. When the foundation took control of it, that was secured, and the space includes two private apartments and a shop.
“All three are rented right now, and it provides additional income to the foundation,” Buckson said.
“One of the things that we understood when we took over in 2005 was that we had to look at how we manage the site, more efficiently and more effectively, so that we would never get into a situation like we were in around the turn of the 21st century. These buildings had fallen into disrepair and there was a lot of deferred maintenance.”
You’d never know that looking at the 1774 Corbitt-Sharp House. Its facade is off Main Street and recently has been redone after a paint analysis underway before COVID-19 hit. The door is stained in mahogany, as it was originally, with creamy paint accents and green shutters that are so dark they are almost black.
Walking around the back of the Corbitt-Sharp House brings you to the back of the 1769 Wilson-Warner House and its 1810 carved-stone barn, lit up by a spotlight showing off the wreath on the door. Even the doghouse is lined with lights.
The Wilson Warner House. which faces Main Street, is easy to spot in a drive down Main Street.
“It’s just such a warm and inviting house,” Buckson said. “It is very typical Delaware architecture while the Corbin House is a very grand Philadelphia-style house, very urban looking. This one gets overshadowed by Corbin, but there’s something wonderful about this house. It’s not quite as grand, but it’s beautiful.”
Families in particular seem to enjoy walking through the lit-up property, she said.
The foundation offers Tuesday and Thursday walking tours that focus on the properties and people who lived there for $15, which includes a drink ticket at Cantwell’s Tavern. The tours are limited to five people, but the foundation can add more tours if more people want to go on one.
To schedule a tour, call Jennifer Cabell Kostik at (302) 378-4119.
Neighbors are asking the foundation to leave the lights up, but organizers are hesitant to do it.
“The importance of the site is really in its documentation as an 18th century site,” Buckson said. “And we’re so well documented that we can do that in a way that other places cannot.”
Because it’s the first time the lights have gone up, organizers aren’t sure about how they would be stored. They can’t be left without being distractions in the non-holiday seasons.
On the other hand, Buckson said, the foundation makes a complete departure from its Colonial mission with its usual holiday offerings, so it’s likely the lights will be back in 2021.